By Richard Bell
In an interview during his visit to East Ship Harbour last week, DFO Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said DFO might very well end up including fish farms on the list of industrial activities that would be banned in marine protected areas (MPAs). Given the long history of opposition to fish farms on the Eastern Shore, the addition of fish farms to the list of banned activities could make the MPA proposal more attractive. And the ban would throw a monkey wrench into the plans of the provincial government and major aquaculture companies for a huge expansion of fish farming around Nova Scotia.
The last two governments have been strong supporters of more fish farming. Darrell Dexter’s surprise conversion to being a fish farm advocate played a role in driving him and his party from power. Liberal Premier Stephen McNeil has been unequivocal in his government’s cheerleading for more fish farms.
And the companies are not wasting their time. The giant Cooke Aquaculture wants to expand its operations in Liverpool Bay from 14 pens and 400,000 fish to 60 pens and 1.8 million fish. And in the nearby waters of Chedabucto Bay in Guysborough County, the Japanese-owned company Cermaq announced a few weeks ago that it is considering spending hundreds of millions of dollars on enough pens to supply a large processing plant.
When the National Advisory Panel on Marine Protected Area (MPA) Protection Standards filed its report in September 2018, fish farms were notably absent from its proposed list of four banned activities. DFO announced on April 25, 2019 that it was adopting the Advisory Panel’s recommendation, banning oil and gas exploration and exploitation, mining, dumping, and bottom trawling from MPAs.
I asked Wilkinson why fish farms were not even mentioned in the report from the National Advisory Panel on Marine Protected Area (MPA) Protection Standards, much less on the list of banned activities.
Wilkinson did not answer this question about the Advisory Panel’s work. Instead he said that DFO was considering such a ban right now. DFO is in the middle of what Wilkinson called “a science assessment…as to whether or not they [fish farms] would be consistent with being allowed in a marine protected area. We haven’t finished those, but I will tell you the emerging view is that finfish aquaculture would probably not. [Cooperator’s emphasis.]
“We’re not done, given some of the issues around interactions with wild salmon that would exist within the marine protected area. That’s something that we need to finish the science work.
Wilkinson pointed out that adding fish farms to the list of banned MPA activities could be considered a benefit. “If we come to the conclusion that it wouldn’t be allowed in a marine protected area, it’s one of the benefits for folks in this area, one way to prevent that fight from having to be re-fought.”